To enshrine the rich nationalist legacy of the tribal communities in Bharat, and their anti-colonial struggle, a National Tribal’s Day should be commemorated after Birsa Munda
Birsa Munda’s name is synonymous to anti-colonialism, and hence, he signifies the nationalist legacy of the tribal communities. While the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed every year on August 9, the date marks the day of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in 1982. Here is the glitch!
Birsa Munda (A Representative Image)
The Declaration passed in the UN General Assembly also remarked that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonisation and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.” Concerning global processes such as colonisation and dispossession, people in the former colonies like Bharat become ‘indigenous’ as a whole.
However, in a civilisation-state like Bharat, where the on-going cultural continuity and assimilation has been a characteristic feature of the identity formation, the question, such as, who are indigenous people, cannot be answered with clarity. Therefore, there is an urgent need to indigenise the whole discourse around the ‘Tribal’s Day’ in Bharat. And none is better and more deserving than Birsa Munda, after whose birth or death anniversary, ‘National Tribal’s Day’ can be celebrated. Even though many local organisations celebrate the birth anniversary as ‘Swabhimaan Divas’ in Jharkhand and other States, but that may not be enough!
Birsa Munda- A Brief Bio
Birsa Munda was born on November 15, 1875, at Ulihatu in Bengal Presidency, now in the Khunti district of Jharkhand, on a Thursday, and hence named after that day, according to the then prevalent Munda custom.
Birsa’s slogan threatening the British Raj—Abua raj seter jana, maharani raj tundu jana ("Let the kingdom of the queen be ended and our kingdom be established")—is remembered today in areas of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh
November 15 is also the establishment day of the State of Jharkhand. Seen in the picture is Jharkhand CM Raghubar Das and BJP President Amit Shah offering their respect at a statue of Birsa Munda
The British colonial system intensified the transformation of the tribal agrarian system into a feudal state. As the tribals with their primitive technology could not generate a surplus, the non-tribal peasantry was invited by the chiefs in Chhotanagpur to settle on and cultivate the land. It led to the alienation of the lands held by the tribals. The new class of Thikadars was more rapacious and eager to make the most of their possessions.
In 1856 Jagirs stood at about 600, and they held from a village to 150 villages. But by 1874, the authority of the old Munda or Oraon chiefs had been almost entirely annulled by that of the farmers, introduced by the landlords. In some villages, they had completely lost their proprietary rights and had been reduced to the position of farm labourers.
To the twin challenges of agrarian breakdown and culture change, Birsa as the leader of the Munda tribe responded through a series of revolts and uprisings under his leadership. The movement sought to assert rights of the Mundas as the real proprietors of the soil, and the expulsion of intermediaries and the British.
He was arrested on March 3, 1900, in Jamkopai forest, Chakradharpur, while he was sleeping, along with his tribal guerrilla army, which was fighting against British forces. About 460 tribal people were arrested, of which one was sentenced to death, 39 to transportation for life, and 23 to fourteen years' jail time. Birsa Munda died in Ranchi Jail on 9 June 1900. Although the British claimed he died of cholera, he never showed symptoms of the disease.
Though he lived for a very short span of 25 years, he aroused the mindset of the tribals and mobilised them in a small town of Chotanagpur and was a terror to the British rulers. After his death, the movement faded out. However, the movement was significant in at least two ways. First, it forced the colonial government to introduce laws so that the land of the tribals could not be easily taken away by the dikus (outsiders). Second, it showed once again that the tribal people could protest against injustice and express their anger against colonial rule. They did this in their way, inventing their rituals and symbols of struggle.
Agreement across the Board
Talking to Organiser, Jual Oram, Union Minister of Tribal Affairs, has said on record that, “The Government of India's stand on indigenous peoples in the UN forum is very clear from the day one. All inhabitants in India are its indigenous peoples, and nobody came here from outside. The term, indigenous peoples, applies to the colonial nations. We support the rights of the indigenous peoples across the world and at the same time condemn all the atrocities and genocides they were subjected to by imperial forces. With this clarity in mind, India gave all the privileges, protections and rights to its Scheduled Tribe population in the Constitution itself in 1950, what the UNO intended in 2007 in its Declaration.”
The stand depicts that we want our tribal heroes to be commemorated since our experiences as a nation and their struggle against the colonial dispensation cannot be equated on similar terms with global experiences.
Dr Sandip Dhurve, former MLA, Nagpur (Gond Tribe) suggests that “June 9 is the martyrdom day of Birsa Munda. That day should be observed as Rashtriya Ekatmata Diwas all over the country, and the government should declare national holiday also on that day.”
There are already many voices in the tribal communities which are making demands for the commemoration of National Tribal’s Day either on the birth or death anniversary of Birsa Munda. Doing that will only sanctify a historical experience of nationalism and will revoke attempts to desolate the tribal communities as some ‘silent sufferers’. Tribal communities in Bharat participated in the freedom struggle with much enthusiasm, zeal, and courage, and their experience of being one with the nation is a part of the collective experience of the citizens of the country.
The discourse of National Tribal’s Day has to be made distinct from International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples because that history is marked by the bloodshed of colonial tyranny and the Church pogrom.